William Christopher Swinney was a decent football player, and he proved to be a serviceable coach as an assistant at the University of Alabama. He ultimately found himself out of football for two years, and it wasn’t until his old position coach at Alabama offered him a chance to coach again in 2003 that the legend of Dabo Swinney really began. When the head coach – and the same man who’d recruited him in college and again back into coaching – resigned, Swinney became the head coach six games into the 2008 season. The underperforming Clemson Tigers began to turn things around, culminating in two National Championships in 2016 and 2018.
Some people would say that Swinney overachieved, that he made something out of nothing. Swinney has always been clear that what he was solidifying for Clemson football wasn’t Xs and Os but culture, morale, and … belief. He was clear that who he was mattered as a person and a believer in Jesus Christ, and that he could share that with his players. But as he told author Jon Gordon, Swinney doesn’t consider himself an overachiever – he considers himself an overbeliever.
That’s classic Swinney, to those who’ve followed him, or listened to his post-game interviews. But it’s also a solid challenge to the rest of us. What do we put our “stock” in? What’s our expectation of what success and failure look like? I have a friend who quotes Mother Teresa all of the time: “We’re not called to be successful, but we’re called to be faithful.” Are we taking what we’ve been given and working ourselves into a sweat with it, or are we believing in faith that God will do more with our efforts than we could ever do on our own? Are we measuring ourselves by who we are or what we produce?
Jesus spoke to these things quite a bit, but in one particular parable, he focused on the smallest particle his audience would’ve known: a mustard seed. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed: “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’” Later, in Matthew 17:20-21, Jesus adds, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Friends, what we do in times like these won’t ultimately be remembered for reflecting our great creativity, our endless resolve, our ridiculous talents. What will be remembered when all of this fades is that smallest of incremental ideas, immeasurable by the world’s standards because it takes up no actual space, held in the grain the size of a mustard seed.